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Coffee Beans and Chocolate Cheesecake

by Erin Dee Moore

Steve hated working Saturday nights -- he hated staring at people's hairy nostrils as they wondered what to order; he hated the slurping sounds people made as they attempted to drink coffee hot enough to boil a chicken; most of all, he hated that he could smell the beer his best friend was drinking, even now as he slumped behind the counter of the Barnes and Noble cafe which smelled of coffee beans and slices of chocolate cheesecake. Steve worked every Saturday night, and tonight, like every other night, the same crowd sauntered in, ordered their espressos and browsed through the store. He always took the order of this whale woman who looked from her massive size as if she ate butter for an appetizer and wore red lipstick so thick she could barely part her lips to breathe. "I'd like a large Godiva hot chocolate." Then, Steve served this man who either had problems with enunciation or smoked about ten packs too many a day. Steve could never understand what the man wanted when he said, "Hgh rev hgg." So, Steve made him a French vanilla cappuccino and hoped he had guessed right.

When she walked in that first time, he had thought nothing of her: her body seemed compressed into a 5' 2" frame as if she were two cups of rice smushed inside a Chinese carton meant to hold one cup. Stepping to the counter, she mused at the menu.

"I'll have a talle Irish cream latte, no wait--" She rolled her head back and forth like the pendulum of a clock, making her curls tick-tock against her neck. "I want a mocha coconut frappuccino."

"Okay." Steve grabbed a cup to start making her coffee.

After he had begun to scoop the coconut from its jar, she halted him. "I've changed my mind. Come back! COME BACK!" Even with his back turned to her, he could detect her panting; she sounded ready to have a seizure.

Rolling his eyes, Steve crumpled the cup in frustration and returned to the counter.

"Okay, I'd like a -- an amoretto espresso."

"Are you sure?" Steve asked, not even trying to hide the sarcasm in his voice.

"Yes," she answered, sliding a credit card toward him. "Do you need my driver's license?"

"No, I'm sure you can afford a two-dollar cup of coffee," Steve replied. He swiped the card, handed it back to her, and rushed to start making her coffee before she could change her mind again. Besides, he wanted this girl away from him, as in ten states, nine cities, and two streets away. Since she couldn't decide what coffee to drink, she probably didn't know what not to say to a stranger, and if he took any longer, she would start engaging him in a conversation about the various ways to rid her big toe of a troublesome corn.

After he handed her the coffee, he watched her walk away, singing a song and moving her hips to the rhythm.

For the rest of the night, Steve took orders, but he wasn't even listening to the voices of middle-aged mothers on their one night away from the kids and the pony-tailed grad students toting lap tops and heavy eyes dripping with fatigue. His mind contemplated the girl and the brown curls that bobbed around her neck. He could not understand his strange attraction, his near obsession with this girl he had seen only once. Of course, he didn't find her sexy; he preferred blondes, sleek and polished like horses. Still, he couldn't get her image out of his mind: the chubby belly that protruded just a sliver beneath her stretchy, black shirt and the glasses that perched around her eyes. Glancing into the magazine section, Steve hoped to see her – he strained his neck, searching the crowd for the curls which swished with each movement of her head -- maybe flipping through the pages of Cosmo or skimming through an article in Vogue. A teenager gaping at a comic book was the only person Steve saw, though. Steve groaned as he thought about his behavior. Why hadn't he glanced at the name on the charge card, or at least tried to be more pleasant? She would probably never come back now, and he would forever be resigned to the drudgery of whale woman and tar lungs man.

Steve anticipated the following Saturday. He wondered if the girl would return, or if he would have to encounter the same faces gaping at a menu they had already memorized five years ago.